Five a.m., rise and shine! I was doing what I have done every Monday morning for the past 30 years or so. I am heading over to Jack’s Place, my neighborhood diner for a hearty breakfast and a chance to ‘chat it up’ with my diner buddies. On my way I pick up my longtime friend, Joanie, and together we talk about our plans for the day ahead. Joanie remarks, “I can’t believe this routine of ours is still going strong after all these years.” I knew exactly what she meant; sharing a part of our daily lives five days a week with people that were once strangers and now were considered friends. Most mornings we are warmly greeted by Jack’s son and the tantalizing aroma of fresh brewed coffee. Many of the regulars are seated in the same seats that they have claimed as ‘theirs’ when they started this ritual many years ago. We are greeted with waves and “good mornings.” The look of the diner is different now since its owner wanted to keep up with the times and renovated it to mimic other diners with the chrome and neon façade, and keeping up with the times required the installation of several televisions that are mounted on the walls. I have noticed that except for an occasional glimpse up at the TV to catch the day’s weather forecast or the night before sports scores, most of us were more interested in what each other had to say. Even with the new makeover of brightly colored booths, tables for two, and miles of counter space with swivel chairs, it still was considered our ‘home away from home’ kitchen.
Over in one corner sat Bill. What a congenial guy. When you considered the physically strenuous job he has in construction – he always manages to start his day with pep and enthusiasm. And yes I did ask him where all that energy comes from and in a word, he says with a big grin, “life.” At the table across from Bill sat Richie, a school bus driver. Before his early morning pick up he liked to start his day with a steaming cup of coffee and a bagel. The coffee refills just keep on coming from our attentive and longtime waitress Sue. If there was an award for a waitress with a heart of gold and a love of people, hands down Sue would get our vote. Over the years we’ve shared happy stories about her family and even some sad times; and that’s when we rallied around her for support and comforting words. She embraced us all with her gratitude. At my table there are always the daily papers spread out; we all kind of share the news of the day together. As I find myself commenting on a headline or two, invariably it will spark thoughts and comments from our group; not that we all agree on everything that is fit to print, but that’s what makes it more interesting, opinions from folks with varied backgrounds willing to express themselves and secure in the knowledge that their thoughts on any given subject will be embraced and possibly lend a new perspective on the subject. With briefcase in tow, a commuter will rush in for a cup of coffee to take with him as he makes haste to catch his early morning train.
Several young teachers gather at a nearby table and look over their day’s itinerary and occasionally they find themselves drawn into the conversation on whatever topic is being mulled over. One of our regulars Tom, a professed bachelor, is an ardent fan of the talent shows and when he is engaged in conversations and sometimes debates with Kay, the drivers- ed instructor, they have everyone of their diner buddies laughing and putting their two cents into the fray. Tom and Kay eventually surprised us all when they recently announced they would be critiquing these shows together from now on. They became a ‘couple’ and we all knew what that meant… “Table for two.” Our time together is coming to a close and along with a wave and a smile we say our ‘good-byes’ and wish each other a productive and safe day. The regulars at Jack’s Place know that tomorrow will bring another opportunity for sharing and I realize it’s a ‘good handle’ to be called the ‘regulars’ at this establishment, we earned the title after all these years of being Diner Buddies.